It has always been like this. From early childhood on every boy and girls learns not to follow stranger. We adults, too, would never leave everything behind when a stranger says to us, “follow me:“
Yet what had it been like in the case of the disciples of Jesus? Did they already know him when he said to them, “follow me?“ Why did they do this? Why did they leave everything behind and followed him? Could it be that even nowadays people might do such a thing?
In order to answer all these questions we have to look at the Gospels. The Gospel of Mark is the oldest of the four Gospels. Many passages in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are similar to those from Mark simply because these two authors knew it and copied it, adding other scriptures that they had in addition.
In Mark 1, 14 – 15 we read:
Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe the gospel.“ (Mark 1,14 - 15)
In verse 16 it goes on like this:
Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, „Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.“ And straight away they forsook their nets, and followed him. And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. And straight away he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him. (Mark 1,16 - 20)
Matthew and Luke basically wrote the same. They just added a few more details.
Jesus originally was brought up in Nazareth and had learned the profession of a carpenter. When he was in his early thirties, John appeared in the desert. He preached there and called people to repent from their sins. This is what he preached:
And preached, saying, There comes one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptised you with water: but he shall baptise you with the Holy Spirit. (Mark 1,7 - 8)
One day Jesus went there as well and was baptised by John. Strange things happened in the course of this:
And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptised of John in Jordan. And straight away coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.“ (Mark 1,9 - 11)
Mark does not describe any further details on how the people nearby reacted. Were they astonished or did they feel bewildered? We are not even informed whether there had been a lot of people there at that time. In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke always in chapter 3, however, we read that crowds of people came to the river Jordan to be baptised by John.
So, for sure many noticed what strange things happened when Jesus was baptised.
Can you imagine how people behaved when coming home that evening? “You should have seen what happened today when I was out at river Jordan to see that person John! There was a man, and the moment he was baptised....” - “John already announced that some other would come, a greater one, a more important one, could it be that he is the Messiah of whom we read such a lot in the old Scriptures?”
Right after this incident Jesus went to the desert in order to be alone and to pray. Afterwards he started to preach publicly. It had been quite normal in those days that on Sabbath anybody was permitted to speak publicly in the synagogue or to read from the old scriptures or to say his personal opinion on the readings.
Not long time afterwards Jesus then passed by the lake of Galilee and asked Andrew and Simon, and then Jacob and John to follow him. These four men did so without hesitating for a single moment.
What happened in these moments? What did these men feel in their hearts? Did they critically look at Jesus and more or less think this: 'Isn't that this new preacher that keeps walking around lately? People are rumouring that strange things happened when he was baptised by John recently. He is supposed to be good in preaching. It might be interesting following him for a while and listening to his words. He obviously has got quite something to say.'
No, I don't think that they thought this. It was completely different.
Among the readers of this here there might be some Christians. They will surely confirm my following words:
When Jesus calls somebody, then this is something most extraordinary. There we leave everything behind and just say, “Yes, Lord, I am coming.” Later in life obstacles might come or even doubts. Yet in the first moment we are overwhelmed. I myself experienced this many years ago. I did not at all turn into superwoman without sins. I just and simply experienced personally that Jesus loves me, and that he wanted to be in my heart. At that moment then I simply said, “Yes.”
We Christians call this experiencing Jesus through the Holy Spirit and accepting Jesus. How much, much more intensive must this experience have been in the case of those four men when they personally stood in front of Jesus. All right, perhaps in the days or weeks prior to this event they had already heard some rumours about Jesus. But then in this very moment they met him personally. There was no way back left.
In the Gospels we read about a number of further people who met Jesus and whom Jesus asked to follow him. They all did so in that very moment and full of joy.
For sure Jesus had an enormous personality, expression, charisma and much more that fascinated the people of those days. Yet Jesus simply is the Son of God. Whoever personally meets him – who meets God – has to open up.
In those days many people simply were curious and wanted to see Jesus. Some spoke to him, others Jesus addressed himself. For many people in those days meeting Jesus meant a complete change of their lives. Jesus healed physical diseased. This could be seen by everybody. Yet Jesus also healed mental diseases that nobody saw.
At those days people were able to go straight to Jesus. Well, and today? Even today people are still able to meet Jesus personally. Jesus can speak to you, yes very personally to you. This might happen while you are reading in the Bible or while you are sitting in a Sunday service in church or while you are speaking with another Christian or while your are reading something about Jesus, or while you are praying. Just open your ears, listen and be surprised.